Meet Pavneet: Master of Food and Packaging Innovation student

Master of Food and Packaging Innovation student Pavneet Kaur Kharbanda saw high value in the degree’s blend of packaging design, innovation and food science.

In her six years of experience in the personal care product industry, she had found businesses work best when there are strong links between product engineers, quality assurance personnel and marketers. She saw the degree’s cross-disciplinary nature as an opportunity to develop the skills to coordinate work across those areas to create a high-quality and innovative product.

“My work experience in innovation and quality management in the fast-moving consumer goods industry led me to explore courses that teach the technical aspects while being management-oriented,” Pavneet says.

“This got me really interested in the innovation department overall, and I started exploring options for degrees. There were lots of project management courses available, but I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing.”

“I found this unique combination in the Master of Food and Packaging Innovation.”

With her background in chemical engineering and experience, she wanted to stand out and help the teams developing products and their packaging synchronise their efforts. She’d seen the issues that come from siloed development teams, from excellent packaging designs that would be too difficult to manufacture to packaging that could not keep products stable.

Pavneet says the degree offered the chance to consider packaging for food and other goods in the broader manufacturing context.

The Master of Food and Packaging Innovation is designed to accelerate the careers of people with an engineering, food or agricultural sciences education - particularly via an internship program or industry-oriented research project. It will also benefit workers with any degree who wish to drive innovation in the food and packaging industries.

The program combines essential food science, packaging and innovation subjects with the ability to explore consumer decision-making, business management, product development and specialised food science subjects.

Pavneet has taken advantage of that flexibility by choosing subjects in management, innovation, sustainability and consumer behaviour.

“It’s been interesting to study how different kinds of consumers make decisions about what to buy, and how a manufacturer can differentiate itself from the competition through product features, price and how it is presented in the packaging,” she says.

She’s also been able to learn directly from industry experts, with packaging subjects taught by Australian Institute of Packaging members.

Pavneet has explored her interest in increasing sustainability for packaging through her masters degree. She emphasises that this is not simply a case of using as less plastic or materials that can be perceived as more sustainable, like glass – it’s a complex challenge that requires strong knowledge and an understanding of a product’s complete lifecycle to truly address effectively.

She has been able to build on the knowledge and experience she gained in the fast-moving consumer goods industry in her studies.

“Packaging can have a pretty negative image in the context of sustainability, mostly because of the wide use of plastic,” she says.

“But stopping plastic use altogether presents enormous challenges, because sustainability has to be balanced with the need for access to nutritious foods, extended shelf life and protection from external issues like heat. So, you need to do a life cycle analysis that considers the packaging from raw material through to manufacturing, consumer use and the recycling potential to get a good result for the environment.”

Despite the challenges, Pavneet says she’s excited by the enormous demand for more sustainable packaging and looking forward to the roles she may play in response.

“Being even a small contributor to solving this problem through designing sustainable packaging, finding low-cost solutions to minimise food wastage or improve transport over long distances without reducing quality – those are things I’m looking forward to,” she says.

Moving to a new industry presents challenges, and so does moving to a new city or country. Pavneet, who moved to Melbourne from Mumbai in India, says she’s found the city welcoming, and some areas familiar - from the bright lights of the city skyline to the grand early 20th century architecture of the central Flinders Street Station and the palm-lined St Kilda promenade.

She also emphasises the industry links of the Master of Food and Packaging Innovation degree, which was created in direct response to industry demand and in collaboration with food and packaging industry bodies and companies.

“It’s not just academically focused. It has the industry angle to it because it offers internship opportunities as part of the course.”

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